How to Find the Right Illustrator

by Laughing Stock on March 16, 2010

This new post was written by Leighton Hubbell, an industry associate and illustrative designer, who has generously allowed me to repost his informative article.

This is a subject that I can share a unique perspective on (pun intended). I have worked on both sides of this particular fence, as an art director hiring illustrators and as an independent illustrator working with design firms and ad agencies for many years. I certainly know what it’s like to sift through source book after source book, scouring every page trying to find the right style–all on an insurmountable deadline.

And, after you’ve found the person’s work that fits the bill, now you’ve got to find out if they fit your budget.  On the flip side, I’ve been the guy who gets the call or e-mail with the often desperate inquiry. What’s your availability? is usually the first question. Most of the time I’m coming into the situation rather blindly, not knowing exactly how they came to find me. Was it from a source book page or a portfolio site listing? How about a recommendation? Sometimes they can’t even remember.

As an illustrator, this is where things can take an interesting turn. You see an illustrator is much like a gourmet chef. All chefs can obviously cook, but a gourmet chef is known for what they cook and most importantly HOW they cook. Illustrators are no different. They can probably create what you’re looking for–eventually, but it’s not in a technique or style that you may have initially intended. They are specialists and have been crafting their way of illustrating for a very long time. Some have several different styles. So, rather than force a round peg into a square hole, perhaps you should find someone who fits the style you were looking for. That way, everyone is much happier with the end result.

Let me just say, there are a lot of great illustrators out there. Some with lots of experience and some fairly new to the industry. There are many illustrators that work solely on a desktop computer in a digital format, and there are others that use a wide range of more traditional mediums. All of them are out there to create the perfect image for your project. But, not all of them are what you may be looking for. Here’s a few tips on how to narrow down your options to help you hire the right one.

Style. First and foremost is the artist’s style. How does that fit into your project? Do they have a slick line art digital technique, or is it more cut paper? Is it colorful or muted? What are you trying achieve with your communication? If you’re needing black and white information graphics, than an oil pastel artist probably won’t fit the bill.

Portfolio. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant you’ve never been to and order without looking at the menu first? You might, but you probably wouldn’t be happy with the selection. The same goes for illustration. Take a good look at their work and see if it’s what you were looking for. If you don’t see it, just ask.

Communication. Give your potential candidate a call and carefully explain what you are looking for. No one can get inside your head and read your mind, so be specific–if needed, provide samples. Open dialog throughout the project will definitely help make sure everyone’s working from the same playbook and prevents errors, wasted time and extended budgets.

Timeline. Have a fair and reasonable deadline. If not, expect to pay more for it. Please keep in mind that some techniques take longer to render than others. Intense deadlines can’t hurry some oil painting techniques, even if you want it to.

Concept. Do you have something worked out already, or are you looking for the illustrator’s contribution–or maybe both? If it hasn’t been worked out yet, certainly let your potential candidate know that you are looking for some additional direction. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised with what a fresh set of eyes can bring to the table.

Sketches. Many illustration techniques require a good deal of planning before they can be formally rendered. Often times, the artist will submit several rough sketches to make sure that they are working in the right direction both conceptually and stylistically. Most who do this require an approval of these sketches before proceeding to final. This step–as you might imagine–has an effect on the timeline, so be aware.

Doing several sketches and making adjustments takes a lot less time to correct than going back and changing something that has already been rendered. Less time and effort means less money out of your budget.

Usage. This is a hot one these days. Everyone wants to pay a one-time fee for an illustration and be done with it. Figuring out where the work may end up is generally difficult and requires some foresight, but on the other hand could save you money on extra fees. Take the time to work this out.

Besides, creating something that ends up on billboards nationwide rather than a single website banner ad should be adequately compensated for. If you want to have unlimited usage rights, be prepared to pay for them.

Budget. This topic is often either the first thing people bring up, or is not adequately addressed. Be upfront with your candidate about what you have to spend. If you aren’t prepared to share that with the artist, try and at least give them a ballpark figure. At that point the illustrator can either negotiate an agreeable amount or pass on the project. Everyone is just trying to be fair.

Hopefully, this helps gives you a better idea about what to expect in your search. After all, it is a business and it definitely pays to work with a professional.

Copyright © 2010 Leighton Hubbell – Illustrative Designer. All Rights Reserved.

And…hopefully you will find just the right illustrator at Laughing Stock!

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